The Ohio Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects has bestowed its top honor on Morgana Bluffs Nature Preserve, the 4-acre park in Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood.

AECOM, a top infrastructure consulting firm, was honored for the project’s design.

The project, a collaboration between Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio, the Clean Ohio Fund, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, West Creek Conservancy, Third Federal Foundation, the city of Cleveland, the Ohio & Erie Canalway, Cleveland Municipal School District and Slavic Village Development, received the Award of Excellence from the organization.

The landscape architects group has made the award only five times in the past 10 years.

AECOM designed the project, which transformed an abandoned brownfield site next to BGCNEO’s Broadway Club into a nature preserve serving the neighborhood.  The project routes stormwater runoff away from the combined sewer system to an innovative zero discharge stormwater wetland on the site.  A restored meadow and woodlands offer a variety of ecological habitats for nature study and enjoyment.

“This award is even more remarkable and astonishing in that this comparatively modest project was recognized for its huge community impact, with the Project of the Year award, especially in comparison to some of the other multimillion dollar projects that were recognized,” said Tom Evans, senior associate and regional green infrastructure design lead for AECOM.

BGCNEO instigated the project approximately four years ago. In a letter to BGCNEO, Evans said the award is “a testimonial to all of your vision, cooperative effort and perseverance.”

The preserve was formally opened to the public in October 2019 with a ceremony in which Boys & Girls Club members and other attendees tossed milkweed seed ‘bombs’ onto the site. The seed bombs promote the growth of milkweed, the sole host plant of the endangered monarch butterfly.

The preserve features trails, boardwalks and an amphitheater for outdoor learning.

“Morgana Bluffs is a true community asset and a place where our kids can truly appreciate the wonders of the natural world,” said Jeff Scott, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio.

Crystal Davis, Watershed Programs Specialist for NEORSD, said, “Partners such as Boys & Girls Club are instrumental in our clean water work and we are always happy to collaborate on great projects. Since 2014, the Sewer District’s Green Infrastructure Grants Program has invested $9.2 million for local projects to reduce stormwater flows into the combined sewer system by more than 30.3 million gallons. It is because of our partners that this work is possible.”

Bordered by the Club, Morgana Run Trail and Mound STEM School, the preserve gives about 1,700 kids in the neighborhood the chance to explore nature in their back yard. It has been used for nature-based learning programs led by BGCNEO, Mound School and Footpath Foundation.

“Uniting people with land and connecting them to nature is what we love to do,” said Derek Schafer, executive director of West Creek Conservancy. “West Creek’s role in the partnership helped bring the project to fruition, but it was our partners who had the vision and saw it to the finish line. Progress thru partnerships!”

The preserve is on land where the powerhouse for the massive Cleveland Worsted Mill Co. complex once stood. Worsted Mill, which operated from 1878 to 1956, was once one of the largest garment manufacturers in the country.

 The factory sat on the upper property that is now BGCNEO’s Broadway Club, while its powerhouse was located on the project site below. After the mill closed, the buildings were never fully occupied, though sometimes used as warehouses for smaller firms and other times being vacant.

On July 4, 1993 a spectacular fire destroyed the complex. In 2011, the city and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted an environmental assessment and remediation on the lower portion of the site, cleaning up remnants of a junkyard, reviewing fuel tank locations and removing a crumbling smokestack. The remediation also removed several tons of junk tires and filled in the old tunnels that led to the upper mill site.

“This long-abandoned site in the center of our neighborhood has been given new life thanks to the leadership of the Boys & Girls Clubs and the care that the team from AECOM gave throughout the design and implementation process,” said Chris Alvarado, executive director of Slavic Village Development. “We at SVD were proud to play a role in creating a true community asset.”